A Nerd’s Thoughts on the Jack Eichel Trade

Image Credit: Jack Eichel/Twitter

The Jack Eichel trade rumors are finally finished, and the team that was connected to them for the longest time finally got their target.

On Thursday, after months of speculation and standoffish behavior between player and team, the Buffalo Sabres traded their former captain and three-time All Star and a conditional third round pick in 2023 to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and conditional first and second-round picks in 2022 and 2023, respectively (the condition being that, should Vegas’s pick fall in the top 10, the picks would defer to the following year.)

For the Sabres, it ends a near eight-month-long saga revolving around Eichel. Since suffering a neck injury in early March that effectively ended his 2020-21 season, the two sides became embroiled in a feud regarding the type of surgery Eichel would receive. Eichel went with an independent specialist’s recommendation of artificial disk replacement; Buffalo preferred Eichel to undergo fusion surgery. It is mildly concerning that an organization would tell an individual how they should take care of their body, but I can at least understand Buffalo’s concern when the only notable athlete to undergo artificial disk replacement is Tiger Woods. The current collective bargaining agreement for the NHL also gives teams ultimate authority over decisions such as this, so it wasn’t as if the Sabres were violating any rules. Either way, it seemed that the two sides were effectively headed for a split, and the trade carousel was in full rotation.

There were plenty of teams that wanted in on the action. Calgary had sent their own offer that, according to Kevin Weekes, included Matthew Tkachuk, a first-round pick, and two or three prospects (a deal that I personally would have ran with.) Minnesota and Anaheim were both linked to Eichel at points, with both teams having the need to justify the move and the future assets necessary to pull it off. Even the Carolina Hurricanes, despite being the last undefeated team in the league, did their due diligence on the feasibility of an Eichel trade. Ultimately, however, it was the Golden Knights that came away from the Eichel sweepstakes with the center in tow.

While a lot of hockey fans are prematurely declaring Buffalo the winners of this trade, it’s hard for me to see this as anything but a win-win at the moment. Buffalo gets two or three valuable assets to center their next rebuild around, while Vegas gets the franchise center they’ve needed for a long time. It was an issue that teams like Dallas and Montreal exposed in upset playoff wins over Vegas, so the need was definitely there. Top-line centers like Eichel rarely hit the trade market to begin with; it’s even rarer when those centers are still in or just approaching their prime. They had to give up a couple of pieces to get their guy, but the risk is definitely worth taking.

Vegas did win the day…but I have to ask what it cost in the end. There’s three things that have to be discussed in the context of this trade: health, timing, and financial ramifications.

Health is the most obvious red flag that sticks out. Like I stated earlier, the only notable athlete to undergo artificial disk replacement is Tiger Woods; for the NHL, this is unprecedented territory. Perhaps it was this lack of a baseline expectation that made Buffalo hesitant on Eichel’s request which, while still a little questionable morally, isn’t entirely wrong. Eichel, his camp, and the Golden Knights have all likely done their due diligence to ensure this was the right path to take, but there’s no guarantee that Eichel will be the same player after the surgery. Even if he does and is able to follow the earliest timetable, Eichel wouldn’t be able to play his first game as a Golden Knight until after the Olympic break, putting him at roughly a year between games. Given that Vegas paid a premium to get Eichel in a Knights uniform, they’ll need to hope that the surgery is a success.

It brings us to the second part of my hesitance about calling the trade a success: the timing of it all. While the Knights basically replaced one key injured player in Tuch for another in Eichel, that’s the tip of the iceberg with the injury problems plaguing Vegas. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and William Karlsson are all out with long-term injuries. Nolan Patrick and Zach Whitecloud are also currently on the injured list. Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, and Mattias Janmark have all missed time early in the season. These aren’t insignificant pieces; many of these are players who play major minutes in key situations. The sheer amount of injuries are part of the explanation behind Vegas’s mediocre .500 start to the season, and the organization is counting on their depth players to keep the ship afloat until reinforcements arrive.

Even if Eichel returns fully healthy and the team is able to be at full strength, the Knights still have to contend against the third and most important ramification of all: the salary cap. There’s no current need to fret about it, as the Knights currently have $16 million tied up in injured reserve. The likely staggered returns of their players will keep them alright for now, possibly requiring a couple of minor moves to balance the books. When everyone comes back, however? Vegas is looking straight into a $7 million overage. Unless Vegas pulls a Tampa Bay and keeps Eichel or any other major player on LTIR until the playoffs (hello, instant playoff villain role), they’ll have to find a way to shed salary and possibly be the odd contending team that has to sell at the deadline.

The expiring contracts for this season such as Reilly Smith, McNabb, and Janmark are all but playing their final years in Vegas, so trading them for future assets to get something out of them would be a start. In order to re-sign any key restricted free agents like Nic Hague or Nicolas Roy, however, more cap-cutting might be in store. Chandler Stephenson has been a great fit for Vegas and has cemented himself as an NHL-caliber player, but is his $2.75 million AAV worth it for a third-line center role? What about Evgenii Dadonov, who would be in the mix to take Smith’s spot next to Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson (Marchessault, whose contract expires after the 2022-23 season, might also be a name worth considering.) Laurent Brossoit could also be a name worth floating around for $2.3 million in savings, especially if Logan Thompson continues to play well in the AHL. If a team wanted to be bold and take full advantage, they could contact Vegas about Shea Theodore and try to land a legitimate top-four defenseman for a bargain price and catch the Knights in a situation where they have no leverage.

See the problem? Even if the initial package looks like a bargain, the fallout from this deal will shake up the roster even further. If the Knights want to at least be cap-compliant, let alone avoid the cap-manipulating tactics they had to pull last season, they will have to sacrifice three or four NHL-caliber assets in exchange for adding Eichel to their core for the foreseeable future.

Situations like this have been the double-edged sword that has defined Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon’s run at the helm of the NHL’s 31st franchise. Throughout his time in Sin City, McCrimmon has never been afraid to go big-game hunting, and his roster resembles an NBA-caliber super team at this stage. It’s a tactic that works great in NHL 22 with the salary cap off, but real-world hockey management means no one can play this fast and this loose with the cap without sacrifices. The decisions to bring in Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone were great at establishing Vegas as a legitimate player, but such moves played a role in sending out the likes of Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt. Signing Alex Pietrangelo last offseason and extending trade deadline acquisitions such as Alec Martinez and Robin Lehner were huge moves, but it forced Vegas to sell the cornerstone of their franchise in Marc-Andre Fleury for literally nothing. With Eichel in tow, Vegas now has to endure its most aggressive cost-cutting venture yet.

For all the franchise-altering moves McCrimmon has made, the Eichel deal will be, in my honest opinion, what ultimately defines his tenure as the Golden Knights GM. If everything checks out and the Las Vegas Strip becomes home to a Stanley Cup parade in the near future, McCrimmon will be the subject of universal praise for his handling of the situation and arguably revolutionize the way Cup contenders are built, for better or worse. If not, he becomes this generation’s version of Peter Chiarelli, dooming Vegas to a long-term salary cap hell like Chiarelli did to Boston and Edmonton. The pressure for McCrimmon and the Golden Knights to complete owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in six” timeline is at an all-time high. Now it’s time to deliver.

NHL Power Rankings: Week 3 Edition

Photo Credit: Calgary Flames/Twitter

The first month of the NHL season is almost over. While it’s still too early to gain a true sense of where everything stands, we can make at least a few inferences about the season.

On the positives, the Carolina Hurricanes are the only team to go through the entire first month of the season undefeated. For a team that lost its top defenseman and made a supposedly unnecessary overhaul of their goaltending, the early results have been promising. Meanwhile, the Battle of Alberta may feature the top two teams in the Pacific in Edmonton and Calgary, St. Louis is benefitting from not pulling the trigger on a Vladimir Tarasenko trade in the offseason, and Buffalo(!) has actually played well with no expectations attached.

Then we get to the ugly parts of the season. While Pittsburgh and San Jose have cooled off after hot starts and contenders like Vegas and Colorado have yet to really hit their stride, the bottom three teams on this list make their problems seem small. Arizona and Chicago ended the month winless, with the latter facing massive fallout from a sexual assault coverup scandal that has marred their early-2010s dynasty. Meanwhile, Montreal is continuing to suffer from having no identity, and it appears the changes to their roster are far too great to overcome.

So how does the NHL shake out this time?

Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded as of October 31.

1. Carolina Hurricanes (2): The only undefeated team left deserves the top spot of these rankings. Frederik Andersen is undergoing a career revival after a lackluster stint in Toronto, while the roster in front of him is dominating both sides of the ice (second in goals for with 33, first in goals allowed at 12).

2. Florida Panthers (1): It took a shootout loss for the Panthers to end their win streak, but the league’s best offense combined with a great goaltending tandem are still going strong. That said, the resignation of Joel Quenneville does leave questions (and please don’t say replacing him with John Tortorella is a good answer.)

3. Edmonton Oilers (4): Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s 29 combined points in just seven games is sheer insanity, but they’ve gained some reliable depth with Jesse Puljujarvi and Zach Hyman. Goaltending has also been strong so far, but can they keep the hot start going?

4. St. Louis Blues (5): The underlying numbers still aren’t great, but the Blues are certainly not complaining about this hot start. How many teams do you think are wishing they took a swing at Vladimir Tarasenko while he was at a discounted rate?

5. Calgary Flames (18): The Flames have managed to go on a six-game winning streak, headlined by Jacob Markstrom in net and Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane pacing the offense with seven goals each. My general distrust of the Flames has me waiting for the other shoe to drop at some point, but a hot start like this in a weak division could be worthy of playoff contention.

6. New York Rangers (10): There have been some key pieces to the Rangers’ excellent run so far, but Igor Shesterkin has to be the focal point of it all. With an astonishing .944 save percentage in six games, he has the potential to warrant Vezina consideration when all is said and done.

7. Washington Capitals (8): T.J. Oshie’s injury hurts a bit, but can we really count a team with a determined Alex Ovechkin leading the charge out? Ovechkin is already at nine goals to start the year, and Wayne Gretzky’s record is still very much in sight.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (11): Losing to Buffalo this year isn’t at bad at it’s been in years past, and the Lightning did make up for it by beating up on Pittsburgh and Arizona. It’s been an inconsistent start to Tampa Bay’s quest for a threepeat but, with how much hockey they’ve played since the start of the pandemic, is that really too surprising?

9. Boston Bruins (6): Linus Ullmark has stabilized the goaltending in Boston, but injuries have weakened the Bruins. Nowhere has this been more apparent than the offense, which is currently fifth-worst in the league with 18 goals.

10. Colorado Avalanche (14): The offense is starting to emerge, and the Avalanche are shaking off a rough start as a result. Darcy Kuemper still hasn’t quite gotten it together, but he only has to be average for the Avalanche when they’re firing on all cylinders.

11. New York Islanders (9): The Islanders have started to go on a good stretch in this thirteen-game road trip to start the year, but their only game this week a shootout loss to Nashville. As a result, they drop out of the top ten.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins (3): The bad news is that Pittsburgh is on a three-game losing streak, being outscored 13-3 in the process. The good news is that many of their top players are returning or set to return soon from injury or COVID-19 protocol, including Sidney Crosby.

13. Winnipeg Jets (19): Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois have both been red-hot to start the season, but they need Connor Hellebuyck to replicate his Vezina season and shake off the slow start. Losing to a COVID-battered Sharks team is not a good look.

14. Vegas Golden Knights (23): They haven’t won in overly convincing fashion, but a three-game winning streak to enter November is a positive sign for the injury-battered Knights. They’re still patiently waiting for their top stars to return from injury to help out their offense, including a power play that’s approaching historic levels of futility.

15. Philadelphia Flyers (15): A shutout loss to Calgary is a little worrisome, but Carter Hart and Martin Jones have shaken off terrible seasons last year to be a serviceable goalie tandem. As long as that remains the case, the Flyers should be alright.

16. Minnesota Wild (7): Losing three of their last four drops the Wild back towards the middle of the rankings. Kirill Kaprizov should be getting more shot luck soon, but no goals after signing a massive extension has to be alarming to the Minnesota front office.

17. New Jersey Devils (16): Jack Hughes will miss the next month and change, and hockey fans are worse off for it. At least Dougie Hamilton and Jonathan Bernier have been solid acquisitions in the early going.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs (22): Toronto may have won two straight games to end the month, but neither looked incredibly convincing. The Leafs need to wake up and play to their potential soon, because missing the postseason and the inevitably-ensuing death by memes could force the front office into a full-blown panic.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets (17): It hasn’t been perfect, but Elvis Merzlikins and Patrik Laine have this team staying competitive in the early going. How is it that this team always performs when the expectations are off of them?

20. Detroit Red Wings (21): The Red Wings are finally starting to emerge from the depths of the NHL, led by two legitimate Calder Trophy candidates in Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond. Playoffs might be too soon for them, but they’ll continue to fight.

21. Buffalo Sabres (25): Do I expect the Sabres to fall back down to earth at some point? Yes. Should we let Buffalo fans enjoy this time and give Craig Anderson his respect? Also yes.

22. Nashville Predators (27): The Predators are getting some juice out of their offense, and Juuse Saros is living up to the task of standing on his head to keep Nashville competitive. A .500 start is good, but I still can’t help but think the Preds are a step or two below most of their division.

23. Seattle Kraken (28): Yanni Gourde’s debut for the Kraken has gone well, and Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev are in a race to determine the first true face of the NHL’s newest franchise. Still, defense and goaltending have to get better if Seattle wants to be any more than competitive in their first year.

24. San Jose Sharks (12): Defeating Winnipeg with a good chunk of their roster on COVID protocol is worthy of respect, but it’s been the Sharks’ only win in the last four games. After a good start, the flaws in San Jose’s roster and the analytically-suggested regression are starting to come around.

25. Dallas Stars (13): The offense is still terrible, and the Stars have yet to win a game in regulation. The underlying numbers and an easier schedule in November should help, but it’s disturbing that neither the old guard or young core is impressing thus far.

26. Ottawa Senators (24): The Senators aren’t a good team, but they should at least be fun to watch. Insert almost-weekly positive Filip Gustavsson rhetoric here.

27. Vancouver Canucks (20): Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak have been solid to start, but the Canucks have still managed to win only three times in nine games. Blame it on Elias Pettersson’s slow start and the offense struggling to find its rhythm.

28. Los Angeles Kings (26): As much as I personally hate Drew Doughty’s guts, it’s still tough to see an injury take out a top player for an extended period of time. With the Kings reeling and now needing to test their defensive depth, it could be a tough start.

29. Anaheim Ducks (29): Ryan Getzlaf becoming the all-time franchise leader in points was nice, but it’s been the only positive in a rough month for the Ducks. Once again, it’s all about the development of the young guns.

30. Montreal Canadiens (30): The only good thing going for the Canadiens has been that the two teams behind them have been much worse. Hope you didn’t bet too much money on Cole Caufield winning the Calder Trophy.

31. Arizona Coyotes (31): The Coyotes were expected to be bad, but even this is rough. Any fans in Arizona are currently busy watching Shane Wright highlights.

32. Chicago Blackhawks (32): Winless like the team in front of them for the first month, and now they’re tasked with facing the wrath of NHL fans at large. When Marc-Andre Fleury is finding it hard to smile, that’s cataclysmic.

NFL Power Rankings: Midseason Edition

Photo Credit: Andrew Nelles/USA TODAY Sports

With nearly half of the teams having or at their bye week and the NFL hierarchy starting to cement itself, we are close to saying that we are officially at the midway point of the NFL season.

At this point, one conference has been dominant, illustrated by the fact that the top five spots in these rankings belong to teams from said conference. The NFC has shown its teeth throughout the season, with each of their divisions being represented at the top by teams that could be legitimate powerhouses come January. Unlike the AFC, which is shaping up to be a surprising playoff picture, the NFC is loaded with elite talent, making the postseason a potentially explosive affair.

Speaking of the AFC, there’s a quick question I want to ask. Did any of you have the Cincinnati Bengals not just in first place of the loaded AFC North at this point, but ahead of the likes of the Chiefs in any capacity? If you answered yes, you are either a terrible liar, a legitimate psychic, or someone who could have a lot of money waiting for them at the betting counter in the new year. It’s good to see surprise teams at this point of the season prove their legitimacy (hello, Arizona and Los Angeles Chargers), but it’s more surprising when the Bengals overcame serious scrutiny over their offseason decisions and organizational malaise over the last few years to become one of the surprise contenders this season. The glory of sports, man.

So how does the NFL stack up this time?

1. Arizona Cardinals (3): After two straight weeks of clicking on both sides of the ball and keeping their undefeated record intact, I’ll finally give the Cardinals their due and place them at the top of the rankings. After JJ Watt’s season-ending injury, however, Arizona could now be in play to bolster their pass rush at the trade deadline (November 2, for the curious).

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2): The only worrisome thing from Tampa Bay’s clash with Chicago was having to negotiate with a fan for Tom Brady’s 600th regular-season touchdown ball (thank you, Mike Evans). If the Bucs can put together a similar effort against the only legitimate competition in their division in the Saints, you can basically lock the Buccaneers for at least one home playoff game.

3. Los Angeles Rams (6): The Rams have unsurprisingly gone through the weak stretch of their schedule, but the Lions were able to keep the game a lot closer than fans would have hoped for. The cupcake matches end after Houston, so any issues the Rams still have need to be solved soon for them to be able to catch Arizona for the NFC West crown.

4. Dallas Cowboys (8): The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cowboys, with Dak Prescott coming out of their last game injured and his Week 8 status still up in the air. They should still be fine with the amount of talent they have on the roster, but being without Dak for a game or two could knock them down a peg.

5. Green Bay Packers (7): Aaron Rodgers is still putting up big numbers to keep the Packers in the mix, but a few struggles against Washington still has me thinking this team is below the four above them in terms of sheer firepower. A game against Arizona where the Packers will be without their top three receivers and defensive coordinator might be a little unfair to judge them for, however.

6. Buffalo Bills (1): After being on cruise control for most of the season, Buffalo’s ambitions hit a snag against Tennessee last week. Hopefully, they come out of the bye week motivated to get the stench off of them, and it helps that the rest of their division doesn’t appear to have interest in chasing after them too hard.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (13): After soundly dominating their main AFC North competition in Baltimore, it’s time to finally admit that the Bengals have all the makings of a good team. Joe Burrow has completely changed the complexion of this franchise, and the decision to draft Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell has paid off in a big way.

8. Los Angeles Chargers (4): The blowout loss to the Ravens was probably necessary for the Chargers to see the flaws on their roster, which they can use the deadline and an easier stretch of their schedule to work out. They used the past week to try and solve their special teams issues, but their big task is going to be how to fix a league-worst run defense that has been exposed the last couple of games?

9. Tennessee Titans (15): Even in a game where Derrick Henry wasn’t dominating defenses as per usual, Ryan Tannehill and the defense were able to pick up the slack and then some. They could virtually lock up the AFC South with a victory over Indianapolis this week, giving them the season to play with more consistency.

10. Baltimore Ravens (5): A week after crushing the Chargers, the Ravens were on the other side of a blowout against Cincinnati in what felt like a “changing of the guard” game. The depth issues that Baltimore’s suffered since the beginning of the season may be coming back to haunt them, which could necessitate coming away from the trade deadline with a couple new pieces in tow.

11. Cleveland Browns (9): Give credit to the Browns for coming away with a victory over Denver on the back of a third-string running back that was suiting up in the AAF just a few years ago (if you had to Google that, you’re proving how impressive this effort was). The field hospital’s worth of injuries isn’t going to make Cleveland’s run any easier, but this level of adversity would have tanked any of last decade’s Browns squads.

12. Las Vegas Raiders (14): Did the Raiders somehow get better with Jon Gruden out of the picture? Derek Carr didn’t need Darren Waller to put together a dominant performance against the Eagles, and they’ve managed to remain in great position to be the Chargers’ biggest competition in the AFC West, assuming it’s not the other way around…

13. New Orleans Saints (11): The defense showed that the Saints are a likely playoff team against Seattle, but the offense has the potential to cut any plans short. Alvin Kamara has been great but, if the rushing game isn’t going, Jameis Winston and the passing game might not be good enough to move the ball without help. How they counter that when Michael Thomas finally returns will be pivotal.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (10): The blowout loss to Buffalo was bad enough, but failing to score a single touchdown against the Titans as the defense continues to fall apart and NFL defensive coordinators appear to be figuring out Patrick Mahomes? It’s time to slam the panic button as Kansas City runs the risk of not only missing the Super Bowl, but missing the playoffs entirely.

15. San Francisco 49ers (12): The bomb cyclone that hit Santa Clara and forced San Francisco’s primetime game against the Colts to be played in heavy rainfall did no favors, but the 49ers are falling fast in the NFC West where the top two teams don’t appear to be slowing down. Kyle Shanahan’s job security can’t be particularly high at this point in time, and Trey Lance’s health is the only thing that should keep him out of the starting lineup at this point.

16. Minnesota Vikings (19): The Vikings came off their bye week with two straight wins, but a primetime matchup against the Cowboys, followed by games against the Ravens, Chargers, and Packers, will decide their fate come January. Kirk Cousins has never had any problems putting up numbers, but even a .500 record at this stretch could add a bit of significance behind the stats.

17. New England Patriots (22): After taking the Cowboys to the limit, the Patriots embraced one of their favorite pastimes and beat up the New York Jets. Dropping fifty-plus points was impressive, but they need a statement win to convince me or anybody else that they’re a serious playoff threat.

18. Indianapolis Colts (25): After starting the season 0-3, the Colts have fired off three victories in the last four games to put them back in the AFC playoff hunt. While Tennessee will look to put the division in their pocket, an Indianapolis victory this week suddenly keeps their AFC South hopes alive.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (21): Najee Harris and the defense have been at least alright, but the offensive line and an aging Ben Roethlisberger means to keep expectations low on this team. Injury-riddled Cleveland could give the Steelers some momentum, but their next five games (Chargers, Bengals, Ravens, Vikings, Titans) could doom them to their first losing season in the Mike Tomlin era.

20. Carolina Panthers (16): An embarrassing loss to the Giants all but ends the Panthers’ optimism for this season, as they’ve only shown how important Christian McCaffrey is to the overall team. If Sam Darnold getting benched for PJ Walker doesn’t tell you that they’re willing to pull the plug on the former number 3 overall pick, being in on the Deshaun Watson trade rumors certainly will.

21. Denver Broncos (17): Losing to the Browns wouldn’t typically be a bad thing, but losing to a Browns team that was torn apart by injuries definitely is. The only way for the Broncos to move forward is to fire Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur, while looking at which quarterback in the 2022 draft would fit their new offense’s designs.

22. Atlanta Falcons (26): I’m not overly convinced the Falcons are all that good, but finally establishing a connection to Kyle Pitts is paying dividends for the offense. A reeling Panthers team gives Atlanta a chance to not only be over .500 for the first time in the Arthur Smith era, but the first time since 2017.

23. Seattle Seahawks (18): A Monday night dud against New Orleans has Seattle 0-3 at home since 1992, and I’m not convinced that Geno Smith or this team is good enough to beat the Jaguars in Seattle either (I can’t believe I’m saying that unironically). Russell Wilson was covering up a lot of flaws with the Seahawks, and that alone could inspire sweeping organizational change to keep their superstar QB happy.

24. Chicago Bears (20): Justin Fields is slowly suffering the same fate as Mitch Trubisky did in Chicago, and games like the one against Tampa Bay aren’t helping build confidence. It’s clear that Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace need to go in favor of a regime that’s willing to build around their quarterback before his confidence is shattered.

25. New York Giants (28): Give credit to the Giants for soundly defeating the Panthers, topped off by Daniel Jones imitating Odell Beckham Jr. on a trick play. I’m not going to say this team is good, but they can definitely play the role of spoiler for some teams as they look for pieces to center their rebuild around (is Jones emerging as one of them?)

26. Philadelphia Eagles (23): After showing so much promise against Atlanta in Week 1, the Eagles are on the verge of a deadline fire sale by losing five of their last six. Even more alarming is that pundits are already trying to figure out who’s going to drop out from the Jalen Hurts-Nick Sirianni connection, assuming either one of them stays in Philadelphia at all.

27. Washington Football Team (24): Washington had all the makings of a huge upset over Green Bay to turn their season around, but a failure to finish on offense still led to a double-digit loss. The Taylor Heinicke story is a nice one, but it feels like a matter of time until it reaches its conclusion.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (32): The losing streak is finally out of sight and out of mind, with Trevor Lawrence looking more like an NFL quarterback with each passing game. Catching Seattle without Russell Wilson might be a cause for momentum, but the stretch beyond that might dictate whether Urban Meyer’s first year in professional football is also his last.

29. New York Jets (29): Getting blown out by the Patriots was bad enough, but the offensive line finally letting Zach Wilson get injured puts an end to any reason to care about the Jets. If you seriously think Joe Flacco can be an answer, you’d be alone.

30. Miami Dolphins (27): Want to know how your season is over?; try breaking a 20-game losing streak and choking to the league’s most notorious choker in back-to-back weeks. The Deshaun Watson rumors are only getting louder but, with all of the problems that this team has, is it really any different or better than the one he’d be leaving?

31. Houston Texans (30): Losing to the Cardinals was expected, and the story now shifts to what Deshaun Watson might get for the Texans in the end. It seems like a saga that has ominously hovered over Houston since the offseason may finally be taken off their hands.

32. Detroit Lions (32): I really don’t want to bury this team, but is 0-17 watch officially a thing now? The only real winnable matchups I see are this week against the Eagles and Thanksgiving against the Bears; it’ll be gravely concerning if December comes and the Lions are still winless.

NHL Power Rankings: Week 2 Edition

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

Well, this is going unexpectedly.

While this season is early, there’s plenty of teams having results that were not expected at this point of the year. With all of this in mind, we have to examine what stands out as legitimate and what’s just an early stretch of good fortune. For example, St. Louis and San Jose are off to strong starts, but their shooting percentages as a team are among the highest in the league. When the shots stop being as accurate, will the teams sink back to where they were expected to be? Meanwhile, Colorado and the New York Islanders haven’t gotten off to fantastic starts, but they are teams built for the postseason and should not hit the panic button quite yet.

What teams stand out as legitimate, however? No early results may be more telling of a team’s narrative than the Florida Panthers, who looks strong in nearly all phases of play. On the other side, Toronto and Vegas have legitimate problems emerging that could damage their hopes for this season, while Chicago and Montreal look flat-out terrible with little reason to expect much change. Of course, watch as a month or so passes by and at least one of these teams starts figuring it out, because sports loves to bust up narratives.

So where does your team stand?

Disclaimer: these rankings are based off of games played and stats recorded from October 24.

1. Florida Panthers (2): It’s one thing for the Panthers to be exceeding expectations this early; it’s another to be doing so with Sergei Bobrovsky matching the high play of his rookie counterpart in Spencer Knight. If Bobrovsky can finally regain his form after two sub-standard years in Sunrise, the Panthers’ Stanley Cup odds will skyrocket.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (1): It seems the reactions to the losses of Dougie Hamilton and Alex Nedeljkovic were more overblown than the on-ice results show. Also, it had to feel good for Carolina fans to watch Jesperi Kotkaniemi score his first goal as a Hurricane against his former team in Montreal (because the NHL needed another reason to dunk on the Habs, right?)

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (7): Top two centers, top two wings, top defenseman, and top goaltender on the roster are all of the injured lists, and the Penguins are still putting up five goals a game. I’m not quite sure if the Cup window is still open like Penguins fans might think, but it’s a promising start nonetheless.

4. Edmonton Oilers (9): Connor McDavid’s already got six goals and 13 points in Edmonton’s first five games, which puts him on pace for a Gretzky-esque 200+ point season. It would be somewhat surprising if McDavid manages that total, and what matters to him at this stage is postseason success, but it’s still restoring his status as the best player in the world.

5. St. Louis Blues (13): They have the second-best power play percentage in the league at 42.9%, and the league’s best shooting percentage at 15.83%. It’s led the Blues to a hot start this season, but what happens when those percentages start coming down?

6. Boston Bruins (4): The Perfection Line is still dominating games, and their plan to replace Tuukka Rask in a Linus Ullmark-Jeremy Swayman combination has worked out so far. So long as that remains the case, the Bruins have a chance to win most nights.

7. Minnesota Wild (6): The Wild suffered their first loss of the season to the Predators on Sunday, but they’ve still managed to produce at an effective rate. Kirill Kaprizov hasn’t found the back of the net quite yet, but Joel Eriksson Ek’s three goals in five games have more than made up for it.

8. Washington Capitals (12): Alex Ovechkin is showing zero signs of slowing down, and the problem spots for the Capitals last season seem to be clearing up a bit. They did lose to Calgary to close out the week, but they showed a lot of fight to get a point despite the 3-0 deficit early on.

9. New York Islanders (11): Ilya Sorokin has worked himself into a position that he can claim the number 1 netminder role in Long Island. Despite the uncharacteristically-questionable defense, Sorokin has a .933 save percentage in six games, including ending the week with back-to-back shutouts.

10. New York Rangers (16): Igor Shesterkin has allowed only one goal in his last three contests. and the success has pushed him to second in the league in GAA and save percentage. The Rangers may have some small issues, but the elite play of their goaltender can make up for at least some of that.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning (1): Since losing Nikita Kucherov to LTIR for the second straight season, the Lightning dropped back-to-back contests against the Panthers and Avalanche. They haven’t even held a lead yet in regulation, which can’t bode well for their chances to threepeat.

12. San Jose Sharks (27): The 13.87% shooting percentage for the team likely means the Sharks’ success isn’t sustainable, but strong starts from Erik Karlsson and Adin Hill are giving some substance to a surprisingly good unit. With the rest of the Pacific outside of Edmonton tripping over themselves, San Jose could put themselves in position for a playoff spot early.

13. Dallas Stars (15): The offense still hasn’t been performing, but Braden Holtby has managed to be one of the best under-the-radar signings of the offseason so far. It likely has more to do with Dallas’ defensive talent than anything, but strong goaltending should keep the Stars in games most nights.

14. Colorado Avalanche (5): Similar to last season, the Avalanche have some early-season issues to work out. Chief among them might be goaltending, where Darcy Kuemper has struggled with a .894 save percentage to start his time in Colorado.

15. Philadelphia Flyers (19): Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee have led the Flyers offense so far with four goals and six points, respectively, while Carter Hart has laid the Philadelphia fans’ doubts to rest with what’s looking like a bounce-back campaign. It’s looking good so far for Philly.

16. New Jersey Devils (20): The Devils are one of the bigger surprises this season, but analytics are suggesting that they are one of the more sustainable early success stories in the league. Losing Jack Hughes for a bit is unfortunate, but Dougie Hamilton has been as advertised in the early going.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets (22): The Blue Jackets aren’t exactly expected to sustain this hot start, but Elvis Merzlikins and Patrik Laine have both been solid to start the season. The latter has to be refreshing for Columbus fans to see, as Laine is finally emerging as the offensive driver that they needed.

18. Calgary Flames (24): Elias Lindholm’s six goals in four games is pushing the Flames off to a solid start. I don’t know where the Flames stand, but it’s a good start so far.

19. Winnipeg Jets (21): The Jets have scored five goals in three of their five games thus far, which has allowed them to shake off a rough first week. Kyle Connor’s six goals have pushed the Jets so far, while Pierre-Luc Dubois has also looked very impressive to start.

20. Vancouver Canucks (14): Conor Garland’s looked good to start, but the underlying analytics suggest the Canucks have been too reliant on Thatcher Demko thus far. It’s early in the season, but there will be trouble in Vancouver if some things aren’t fixed.

21. Detroit Red Wings (26): Tyler Bertuzzi is tied for the league lead with six goals, while rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have combined for four goals (all from Raymond) and eight points. As long as all three players are cooking, the Wings should continue to play better than expected.

22. Toronto Maple Leafs (8): The Leafs’ 5.7% shooting percentage is the worst in the league, and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have done virtually nothing to start the year. Things might get better with the talent they have, but they are clearly behind the likes of Florida, Boston, and Tampa Bay right now.

23. Vegas Golden Knights (10): Injuries have affected them dramatically but, unlike the Penguins, the Knights have struggled in horrific fashion. Ten goals and being the only team without a power-play goal isn’t going to cut it, and there’s a chance that a clean bill of health doesn’t save this from being a mediocre unit this time around.

24. Ottawa Senators (23): Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg have been solid in net so far, but the offense has let them down on a couple occasions already. They need more from Brady Tkachuk and Connor Brown, simple as that.

25. Buffalo Sabres (29): Back-to-back losses have dampened the optimism, but the Sabres have still been more competitive than expected. For a team with zero expectations heading into the season, that’s not a bad thing.

26. Los Angeles Kings (18): The Kings rewarded my “playoff contention” status on them last week by being held out of the win column this week. Even the win against Vegas isn’t looking as impressive as it normally would.

27. Nashville Predators (30): Philip Tomasino has looked good in his debut season, but it’s still a case of the Predators being carried by Juuse Saros. It’s impossible to figure out just where this team is headed.

28. Seattle Kraken (19): A four-game losing streak, including two blown third-period leads, has to be damaging for the NHL’s newest team. At least Climate Pledge Arena looks like it’ll be rocking all season long.

29. Anaheim Ducks (31): There’s a couple good spots here and there, even if the Ducks are still one of the worst teams in the league. That’s more than can be said for the three teams below them.

30. Montreal Canadiens (28): They got their first win of the season against Detroit, but les Canadiens were outscored 19-4 in the five games prior to that. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield have only combined for two points this season, which has been one of the key reasons Montreal has looked anemic in the opposite zone thus far.

31. Arizona Coyotes (32): There is nothing here, and the tank job is still on. Anyone have any good Shane Wright slogans?

32. Chicago Blackhawks (25): They’ve been outscored 10-1 with Seth Jones on the ice, Marc-Andre Fleury looks like he held on a year too long, and they now hold the record for the longest time to start a season without holding a lead. At this rate, it’d be a shock if Jeremy Colliton and Stan Bowman are employed at the end of November.

NHL Power Rankings: Week 1 Edition

Image Credit: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The NHL season is officially underway.

Like any first week of a new season, this year’s NHL has given us a couple of surprises already. The Buffalo Sabres, widely regarded as the worst team in all of hockey, are currently undefeated. Meanwhile, championship contenders like the New York Islanders and Vegas Golden Knights have gotten off to relatively slow starts. It’s far to early to say anything regarding the seasons of any of those teams, and time should even things out so performances matches the talent, but it’s what makes these opening weeks some parts fun, some parts confusing.

While overreactions are always important to stay away from in the sports world, some trends have been interesting to note. Teams like the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Minnesota Wild may have been better than initially reported. Others like the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are starting to get on the right track. On the flip side, the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, and Montreal Canadiens all seem to have serious flaws that need to be fixed before the season kicks into full swing. While it is still to early to consider these teams as playoff contenders or enduring lost seasons, there’s still enough evidence to suggest where they are as a team.

So how does your team stack up?

Disclaimer: these rankings are based on record and stats from October 17.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (1): It hasn’t been easy for the defending Stanley Cup champions so far, as their banner-raising ceremony was ruined by an upset loss to the Crosby-less Penguins. They’ve managed to rebound, but losing Nikita Kucherov to injury again and having to come back against Detroit is cause for concern.

2. Florida Panthers (5): A rally against Pittsburgh and a blowout of the New York Islanders have the Panthers living up to their loftiest expectations yet, at least early on in the year. Keep an eye out for Sam Bennett, who recorded a hat trick in the Islanders win and has looked rejuvenated since coming from Calgary at last season’s trade deadline.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (7): Frederik Andersen has looked alright to start his Carolina tenure, which the Hurricanes will need if they want to go anywhere this season. Andrei Svechnikov’s strong start is also promising, as he appears set to emerge as Carolina’s next great offensive superstar.

4. Boston Bruins (6): The Bruins core is still strong as usual, but a goaltending battle may be brewing in Beantown. Despite Boston throwing a good chunk of change at Linus Ullmark in the offseason, Jeremy Swayman’s strong opening-game start and fantastic finish to last season could force Bruce Cassidy into some interesting lineup choices.

5. Colorado Avalanche (2): It was an inconsistent start for the Avalanche, dominating the Blackhawks in their opening game before dropping the next one to the Blues. Not having Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog in the lineup is partially to blame; I’d imagine they’ll be back up to their old spot soon.

6. Minnesota Wild (12): A successful first two games against the Kings and Ducks have the Wild picking up where they left off after being a pleasant surprise from last season. While the schedule will undoubtedly get tougher, a drama-free Wild squad should have no problem being competitive in the Central.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (14): Even without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Jake Guentzel in tow, the Penguins managed to pick up five points in their first three games. More impressive is that they scored fifteen goals in those games, which could be a sign that the Penguins could be fine until the captain and his primary cohorts return to action.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs (8): Losing to the Senators was a rough start, but they at least got a revenge win and picked up four of six points to start the season. Having Auston Matthews back will help matters considerably, but everyone knows the real test for this group is the playoffs.

9. Edmonton Oilers (11): Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going to rack up the points, to the shock of absolutely nobody. Outside of those two, it’s still unclear who’s going to emerge as the primary help, but Mike Smith continuing to kick and scream at Father Time is nice for Edmonton’s season prospects.

10. Vegas Golden Knights (4): They looked wholly unimpressive in their first two games, and now have to deal with long-term injuries to Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. A week of rest couldn’t have come at a better time for the banged-up Knights, who need some bodies back if they want to make this opening stretch any easier.

11. New York Islanders (3): Being outscored 11-4 isn’t a strong start by any stretch, and they still have eleven more road games before they head back to Long Island. Similar to Vegas, I wouldn’t be overly concerned just yet, but the rust will hopefully shake off sooner rather than later.

12. Washington Capitals (10): The Capitals didn’t start out too poorly, but I liked the start of the teams who leaped ahead of them better. Alex Ovechkin passed another legend on his quest to catch the Great One’s goal-scoring record, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vitek Vanecek’s strong starts should make any Capitals fan feel good about their chances.

13. St. Louis Blues (13): The Blues have played only one game, but a road victory against Colorado is sure to open some eyes. Granted, that did also happen last season before St. Louis endured an up-and-down year, so take it with a grain of salt.

14. Vancouver Canucks (16): Three games in four days is tough stretch for any team, so I’ll give the Canucks the benefit of the doubt for the .500 start on the year. With how most of the Pacific is playing right now, Vancouver’s start puts them in decent position for a run to the playoffs.

15. Dallas Stars (20): Ditto to the Stars, who had to play three games in four days with less positive results. Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov didn’t move the offensive needle too much in their returns, which has to change if the Stars want to be taken seriously.

16. New York Rangers (15): The season debut for the Rangers against the Capitals was an anti-climactic start to what should have been an interesting rivalry this year. Gerard Gallant may need a bit of time for this group to gel under his guidance, but having a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman in Adam Fox should help.

17. Seattle Kraken (18): A rough call against Vegas probably should have given the Kraken at least one more point this week, but they seem to be willing to grind out for results. A victory against Nashville and strong efforts in Vegas and Columbus exemplify this team as one to at least pay attention to.

18. Los Angeles Kings (23): The Kings’ offseason moves indicated that they were pushing to make the playoffs and cement themselves as a team on the rise. Absolutely dominating Vegas in their season opener was a great start to that goal.

19. Philadelphia Flyers (17): Four goals on nearly forty shots made Flyers fans fear that the leaky defense and goaltending from last season would return to sink them this year. If Carter Hart’s confidence is shot, that dampens the Flyers’ short and long-term prospects.

20. New Jersey Devils (22): Defeating the Blackhawks a great start to the season, and it gave the Devils a great opportunity to showcase its stars. Dougie Hamilton got his Devils tenure off to a great start with a goal, while Jack Hughes showed why everyone feels he’s ready to take the next step.

21. Winnipeg Jets (9): The Jets are far better than what they were this week, so don’t anticipate them staying down here for too long. Still, coming up empty in a stretch against rebuilding teams is more than justifiable to knock Winnipeg out of the top twenty.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets (27): Elvis Merzlikins has looked locked-in to start the year, and the cannons fired so many times against Arizona that Nationwide Arena sounded like a Civil War reenactment. One word of advice: do it for Matiss.

23. Ottawa Senators (26): The Brady Tkachuk saga is finally over, and the Senators were able to pick up two wins in their first three games. How many segments for the Senators are going to be me waxing poetic about Filip Gustavsson?

24. Calgary Flames (24): A mediocre start for a mediocre team in a mediocre division. Yawn.

25. Chicago Blackhawks (19): Few teams have been as disappointing as the Blackhawks this season, and Marc-Andre Fleury’s over-7 GAA and .826 save percentage should tell you exactly how this team’s doing. Would Hawks fans feel too bad if the sexual assault scandal from the offseason took down Stan Bowman? Just saying.

26. Detroit Red Wings (29): The Red Wings blowing two three-goal leads against the Lightning wasn’t good, but at least it shows Detroit still has the potential to put up goals. At least Moritz Seider looks like the real deal so far.

27. San Jose Sharks (28): Evander Kane is officially lost for over a quarter of the season, which doesn’t help a team that already has issues. They did win their first game, though, and they should get a great package out of Tomas Hertl when he gets traded.

28. Montreal Canadiens (21): Maybe Carey Price and Shea Weber were more important for les Canadiens than anyone could have envisioned. With an 0-3 start and a putrid offense so far, Marc Bergevin’s gambles have landed on snake eyes in the early going.

29. Buffalo Sabres (32): Unlike the Canadiens, the Sabres have turned no expectations into two straight wins and a decent offensive performance. No slander here for Buffalo; just let the suffering fans enjoy this moment of happiness for however long this lasts.

30. Nashville Predators (25): Sorry, Juuse Saros, but it seems you won’t be getting much help this season. Mattias Ekholm’s contract extension was confusing for a team that so clearly looks like it needs a full-scale rebuild.

31. Anaheim Ducks (30): The Ducks won’t be very good this season, but at least goaltending and the development of their top prospects have all been positive so far. As long as it stays that way, this season will be successful, even if the results say otherwise.

32. Arizona Coyotes (31): Karel Vejmelka looked good in his NHL debut, which might not bode too well for his playing time this season. As obvious a tank job as there is in hockey right now.

NFL Power Rankings: Week 5 Edition

Photo Credit: Fox News

The chaos of the NFL continues for another week.

Kickers were nowhere to be found this week. The Browns and Chargers put on an early contender for Game of the Year. A scandal involving racism, misogyny, and homophobia shook an organization to its very core, with the potential of another being the root cause. These are the types of weeks that have ramifications for months to come.

Meanwhile, we can start discussing who’s going to be in play for the season awards. The MVP race is looking tight between two hotshot young quarterbacks and one widely regarded as the greatest of all time. Both Rookie of the Year awards are looking like close calls. One coach completely shifting the culture of his team is the front-runner for Coach of the Year. A lot can change in the next few months, but let’s not discount how this early success can catapult teams moving forward.

So how does the NFL stack up?

1. Buffalo Bills (2): After weeks of stacking up against mediocre-to-poor offenses, the Bills defense went into Arrowhead and flat-out dominated Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense. It’s uncertain if they can put together a repeat performance in January, but it’s feeling like the AFC is going to run through Bills Mafia.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1): The only reason the Buccaneers lose the top spot in a victory is due to competition: the Dolphins are nowhere close to the level of the Chiefs. The strangest stat of the day: this game marked the first time Tom Brady threw for 400+ yards and five touchdowns. Just another milestone for the GOAT.

3. Arizona Cardinals (3): After a month of dominant offensive play from the Cardinals, it was their defense that came through in a big divisional victory over the 49ers. We’ve now seen that both sides can take over games; now it’s just a matter of both clicking at the same time.

4. Los Angeles Chargers (6): Justin Herbert firmly entrenched his name into the MVP conversation, and Coach of the Year contender Brandon Staley has turned this into an exciting team to watch. The Browns exposed a couple of issues, but they pale in comparison to the rest of their AFC West counterparts.

5. Baltimore Ravens (4): After Monday night’s comeback against the Colts, it’s hard to deny Lamar Jackson is a legitimate quarterback at this level. After his performance, his combined 1,850 offensive yards would put him in the top half of all NFL teams.

6. Los Angeles Rams (7): The victory over Seattle on Thursday wasn’t necessarily a shining effort, and it’s become clear that the Rams are not as good as their Week 3 blowout of the Buccaneers made them look. Still, with their next three opponents having two wins between them, this will be a great chance for the Rams to gain momentum and keep pace with the Cardinals.

7. Green Bay Packers (8): No kicker redeemed themselves more than Mason Crosby, who went from goat to hero in a shouldn’t-have-been overtime thriller. They won’t skate by like that in their next stretch, which includes games against four playoff teams from last season and the Cardinals. Buckle up.

8. Dallas Cowboys (10): What can you say about the Cowboys other than how dominant they’ve looked after an up-and-down first two weeks? With a healthy Dak Prescott leading the offense and the defense generating takeaways at an insane rate, it seems safe to pencil in the Cowboys as the winner of one of football’s least intimidating divisions.

9. Cleveland Browns (5): After a strange performance against the Vikings where the defense had to carry a struggling offense, the inverse happened against the Chargers this week. Games like this show what the Browns are at this stage: a flawed contender.

10. Kansas City Chiefs (9): Patrick Mahomes’s six interceptions in the first five games have matched his total from last season already, and the Chiefs are tied with Jacksonville at a league-leading 11 turnovers. Unless the offense wakes up and carries a defense that has been completely overmatched, the Chiefs are looking at a first-round exit…at best.

11. New Orleans Saints (17): Combined with a punting performance from Blake Gillikin that would make Pat McAfee proud, Alvin Kamara and a strong defense put the mercurial Saints on top. With plenty of key players coming back after New Orleans’s bye, will their returns do anything to shed the inconsistent label this team has earned in the first month?

12. San Francisco 49ers (13): Despite the loss, the 49ers move up a spot due to the team that was in front of them and their…issues. It’s unclear who’s going to be starting at quarterback when the team returns from their bye, but George Kittle landing on IR will not help matters.

13. Cincinnati Bengals (14): Ja’Marr Chase is slowly building a case for himself as Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Evan McPherson’s imitating Nick Young on a missed field goal will be hard to forget. Zac Taylor going to his kicker in a game where field goals were nowhere to be found is an inexplicable decision that will be remembered if the Bengals go on a sudden drop.

14. Las Vegas Raiders (12): Losing to the Bears at home was bad enough, but the sudden Jon Gruden bombshell has completely scattered this team. It’ll undoubtedly be a black cloud that hangs over the Raiders for this season and potentially beyond, which isn’t a good thing when your quarterback’s already tabled talks of a contract extension…

15. Tennessee Titans (21): Derrick Henry is a god amongst men right now on the football field, as his 128 rushing yards per game currently have him on pace for the single-season rushing record. He’s already put himself on the map in another category: his 4,792 rushing yards are the most in a 40-game stretch in league history, eclipsing Jim Brown and his 4,759. Hail to the King.

16. Carolina Panthers (15): It’s clear that the Panthers need Christian McCaffrey, as Sam Darnold has thrown for five interceptions in the two games without his star running back and safety valve. Thankfully, Run CMC is expected to return this week, which hopefully means the wins can as well.

17. Denver Broncos (16): The Broncos have played poorly on third down and in the red zone this season, and those issues are finally being taken advantage of by legitimate competition. That 3-0 start was definitely too good to be true.

18. Seattle Seahawks (11): After ten seasons of surviving behind poor offensive lines, Russell Wilson will miss several games with a finger injury. Geno Smith did well in relief against the Rams, but I don’t think he’s capable of guiding a middling rushing attack and poor defense like Russ can.

19. Minnesota Vikings (22): The Vikings managed to keep Detroit winless, but is a last-second long-range field goal in your own building against a winless team really something to celebrate? Similar to Matt Nagy after Chicago’s victory over the Lions, I’m not sure if this victory does anything to cool Mike Zimmer’s hot seat.

20. Chicago Bears (23): It seems the Bears of this season are starting to take shape, with Justin Fields being allowed to learn an NFL offense while relying on decent rushing and a surprisingly-stout defense. Just don’t make the same mistake if you land another shock playoff berth, Bears: you’re winning in spite of Matt Nagy, not because of him.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (25): Losing JuJu Smith-Schuster for the year hurts, but it was refreshing for Steelers fans to see Big Ben put on a strong performance and Najee Harris live up to his first-round billing. A primetime matchup against a suddenly-wounded Seahawks team gives the Steelers a chance to reach .500 before their bye, which would be huge for them.

22. New England Patriots (20): While the Patriots did win against the Texans, they drop for making Davis Mills look like a superstar one week after he posted a Nathan Peterman-esque stat line. Did anyone else have “Mac Jones is missing four starting offensive linemen and still looks like the best rookie QB” on their 2021 season bingo card?

23. Philadelphia Eagles (24): The Eagles got three big plays on all facets to go from a nine-point deficit to a three-point victory. That’s great and all, but performances like that won’t fly against the Buccaneers tomorrow.

24. Washington Football Team (19): A disappointing defense that was absolutely embarrassed by the Saints in just the first half, and a potential continuation of the NFL’s investigation that has the NFLPA smelling blood. By the end of the season, the list of firings could have this organization resembling The Squid Game (Think the Red Light, Green Light episode, except a lot less NSFW.)

25. Indianapolis Colts (18): Trotting out a clearly-injured Rodrigo Blankenship one too many times had something to do with it, but I don’t think any team’s stolen defeat from the jaws of victory quite like the Colts did on Monday. After blowing a sixteen-point lead in the fourth quarter alone, I just don’t see how Indianapolis comes back.

26. Atlanta Falcons (29): It turns out utilizing Kyle Pitts’s unicorn-like size/speed combination against a defense ill-equipped to handle it works out pretty well most of the time. Hopefully, the bye gives Arthur Smith time to adjust his offense for more plays from the number four overall pick.

27. Miami Dolphins (26): Welcome back, Tua Tagovailoa; you come back to find your team in absolute crisis mode. If the Dolphins end up breaking the Jaguars’ run of futility in London, their offensive coordinators might be out of work before the team plane leaves Heathrow Airport’s tarmac.

28. New York Giants (27): The injury bug continued to bite the Giants hard, and they need to hope that neither Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, or Kenny Golladay are out long-term if they want to survive this part of their schedule. At least there’s a chance Kadarius Toney can build off a performance that was great…until he got ejected for throwing a punch.

29. New York Jets (28): It seemed that while the Jets played in London, their luck went over the Bermuda Triangle. Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur need to get Zach Wilson some luck, and using young promising playmakers like Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims would be a good start.

30. Houston Texans (31): Davis Mills had a surprisingly good day against a coach that typically dominates rookie quarterbacks, only to be let down by terrible special teams efforts. With the quarterback draft class looking murkier by the week, getting signs of life from Mills has to be relieving.

31. Detroit Lions (30): First Justin Tucker’s record-breaking field goal, then losing on another long-range field goal from a team notorious for missing those in key situations? I feel legitimately bad for Dan Campbell.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (32): Urban Meyer is now having issues with Trevor Lawrence, and the Jaguars have become the first team to lose 20 straight games since the EXPANSION Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977. I’d normally advocate against firing a coach this early but, if the Jaguars push the streak to 21 in London, would sending Meyer out really be the worst thing to happen?

NHL Power Rankings: Start of Season

Photo Credit: NHL

In less than 24 hours, the 2021-22 NHL season will officially be underway.

It’s a reset for the NHL this time around. If everything goes according to plan, each team will play 82 games for the first time in three years. The divisions are back to their pre-pandemic alignment, with the only exception being the Arizona Coyotes moving to the Central to make room for the expansion Seattle Kraken in the Pacific. Every division looks like there will be battles throughout the season, ranging from the division crown to the final playoff spots.

One of the more interesting storylines, however, is the history that the Tampa Bay Lightning have the possibility to make. The last time an NHL squad celebrated a third consecutive cup win, the 1982 New York Islanders were hoisting the Cup for the third of four consecutive times. Their road to history, however, will not get easy. Their division is stacked at the top. Their conference rivals are either tough outs in the playoffs or teams looking for one last shot at glory. The other side of the bracket has two legitimate superpowers and a cluster of hungry squads looking to make their mark. As a wise man once said, it’s lonely at the top.

So where do the teams match up before the puck touches the ice?

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: The bottom six went through a serious overhaul due to cap constraints, but this roster is still loaded with star power. If health is permitting, they’ll be serious contenders for the Atlantic Division crown, the Presidents’ Trophy, and beyond.

2. Colorado Avalanche: They have the deepest roster in the NHL from a talent perspective, but patience could falter if they’re unable to make it past the second round. How the Avs transition from Philipp Grubauer to Darcy Kuemper in net will ultimately decide their fate.

3. New York Islanders: The Islanders have to be the most well-structured team in the NHL, with defense, goaltending, and coaching all being at elite levels or close to them. If they can score consistently and force the Eastern Conference playoff to run through their new stadium, the Isles could break through as a serious Cup contender.

4. Vegas Golden Knights: There’s a couple major questions surrounding the Knights, mostly centering around the forceful transition from Marc-Andre Fleury to Robin Lehner and if they did enough to fix the problems that ended their playoff run last season. They still have more than enough talent to stay competitive, however, and the Pacific Division still looks a year or two away from being on Vegas’s level.

5. Florida Panthers: The core from the best Panthers squad in this century remains intact, with the addition of Sam Reinhart and a healthy Aaron Ekblad hopefully pushing them over the top. The real X-factor here is in goaltending; if Sergei Bobrovsky regains his form or Spencer Knight enjoys a Calder-worthy season, this is a team that could do more than just win their first playoff series in 25 years.

6. Boston Bruins: The Bruins had a really good offseason, but the losses of David Krejci and Tuukka Rask indicate that a changing of the guard is still looming. Rask can likely be offset by a strong duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, but how will the transition from Krejci to Charlie Coyle on the second line affect their scoring depth?

7. Carolina Hurricanes: They still have the pieces to be a quality team, but losing Dougie Hamilton and undergoing an unnecessary overhaul of their goaltending has me somewhat concerned. If Rod Brind’Amour can work his magic again and pull this team into Cup contention, that will be an incredible accomplishment.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs: They have the talent to do some real damage, but it’s always been a question whether this team can finally shed the choker label that’s haunted them for the last decade and a half. If they fall short once again, do the Leafs remain as patient as they were this offseason?

9. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have always had the offense and the goaltending to carry them far in the playoffs, but a lack of defensive depth has done them in the last few years. Adding Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt to pair with an emerging crop of young defenders could work wonders for Winnipeg, especially in the cutthroat Central.

10. Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom’s injury poses a small problem for the Capitals, but Alex Ovechkin and crew should still put up a lot of goals. If Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov can get back on the right track after a season filled with distractions, they have the firepower to make one more spirited Cup run.

11. Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will still likely be pushing the Oilers to some kind of relevance, but did they truly get better? 38-year-old Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci don’t really move the needle for me on defense, and trusting goaltending to 40-year-old Mike Smith is an extremely risky proposition.

12. Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov has almost single-handedly turned the Wild from one of the more boring squads in the NHL to a legitimately exciting team, and he was awarded the big bucks for it. The question is now what Kaprizov has in store for an encore, as well as if the center depth and defense can hold up to keep the Wild competitive in a stacked division.

13. St. Louis Blues: Replacing Mike Hoffman and Jaden Schwartz with Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad were savvy moves by Doug Armstrong, and having a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko back can only help their scoring depth. They’re a re-emergence from Jordan Binnington and a return to form from their defense away from being competitive, and they do have Scott Perunovich waiting in the wings to help with the latter.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Betting against a core featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang feels like a fool’s errand, but there’s viable reason for it this time around. Crosby and Malkin will miss significant time to start the season, and Tristan Jarry has to rebound after a disastrous postseason. If they can weather the early storm, they’ll be ok.

15. New York Rangers: The Rangers are pushing for the playoffs this season, adding grit to pair with their elite skill players and a coach in Gerard Gallant that knows how to maximize the talent under his direction. If that translates to the positive development of players like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov, the postseason could return to Broadway for the first time since 2017.

16. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks dodged a serious bullet by getting Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes under contracts, and the collection of scoring talent and Thatcher Demko in net looks like enough to consider Vancouver for the playoffs. Their kryptonite, however, will be a defense that may concede a lot of scoring opportunities, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson won’t fix that at this stage of his career.

17. Philadelphia Flyers: The defensive overhaul was completely necessary for the Flyers, but none of their moves will matter if Carter Hart can’t rebound to prior form. Still, the Flyers have a strange trend in recent history of alternating years of playoff appearances, and they did miss the postseason last time…

18. Seattle Kraken: The Kraken will begin their maiden season with a solid goaltending duo and a strong defensive corps, but it’s hard to predict where the goals are going to come from. Expecting a season like the Golden Knights had is probably unrealistic; believing the Kraken can make the playoffs like their desert-dwelling brethren did in their first season is well in the ballpark.

19. Chicago Blackhawks: The return of Jonathan Toews and the additions of Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury have the Blackhawks facing high expectations, but this roster still has some points of concern. How will they respond to the sudden increase in pressure, and do Stan Bowman and Jeremy Colliton survive if this season disappoints?

20. Dallas Stars: Injuries and bad luck did the Stars in last season, but the team is largely healthy heading into the next season. Call this a conservative ranking for now, as I want to see how the Stars respond to a season of disappointment.

21. Montreal Canadiens: This seems pretty low for last season’s runner-up, but there are more problems facing les Canadiens than a tougher division. Weakened center depth, a shakeup in on-ice leadership, and Carey Price being unavailable for the first month of the season will test this team early.

22. New Jersey Devils: Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves should make the defense a lot better than it was last season, and Jack Hughes seems on the verge of breaking out as a legitimate NHL star. Bad news for the Devils is the division is unforgiving and will likely temper the expectations for this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

23. Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Byfield’s long-term injury certainly dampens the Kings’ outlook for this season, but several key additions and a strong prospect core approaching the NHL has the future looking bright. They could easily take advantage of the weak Pacific Division and make a playoff appearance ahead of schedule.

24. Calgary Flames: Trusting this team feels impossible to me, and there will likely be a lack of leadership in the early going with former captain Mark Giordano getting picked up in the Expansion Draft. Another season of mediocrity has to force this team to take action, and that might mean blowing up this core.

25. Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros can only do so much on his own, and the odds aren’t looking too good. Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson’s departures indicate a rebuild is coming, and a poor start could lead to a full-blown commitment.

26. Ottawa Senators: The Brady Tkachuk contract saga doesn’t seem to be coming to an end, which is a shame, given the Senators have some legitimately good talent. Young forwards like Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Shane Pinto taking the next step up will be key if the Senators want to have a successful season.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets: A coaching change hopefully allows Patrik Laine to round back into form, and Elvis Merzlikins has some potential as a top netminder in the NHL. Unfortunately, the roster has too many holes to place them anywhere but last in the Metropolitan Division.

28. San Jose Sharks: The Evander Kane drama looms large, which can’t help a team locked into bad contracts and below-average goaltending. Tomas Hertl is shaping up to be one of the league’s premier trade chips come Deadline time.

29. Detroit Red Wings: Alex Nedeljkovic is the latest big move of the Yzerplan, and rookies Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond gives Wings fans something to look forward to. Losing Jakub Vrana for the first half of the year and Tyler Bertuzzi due to his anti-vax views, however, are losses that will be hard for this team to come back from.

30. Anaheim Ducks: With no additions to make any fixes from last season, don’t expect the Ducks to do anything of note this season. The only way this season is a success is if Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale emerge as building blocks for the future.

31. Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes tearing down their core netted them several prospects and eight picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 Draft, including three in the first round. With how bad this team will be this season, there’s a chance the Coyotes could head to their new home with phenom Shane Wright in tow.

32. Buffalo Sabres: How the entire Jack Eichel situation has unfolded is how bad teams stay bad. At least the Bills will distract Buffalo from the nightmare their hockey team has become.

NFL Power Rankings: Week 4 Edition

Credit: Steven Senne/AP

The only difference between this set of power rankings and the most previous one? I’m actually on time with this one.

Other than that, the chaos of the NFL season has continued in full force. A week after the top dog was dethroned by their main challenger, this week saw the latter drop to an unexpected opponent. New teams are starting to see their potential being realized, while others are witnessing the end of their current relevance. A couple of teams can be penciled in to playoff spots already, while others would do wisely to check out the highlights of next year’s draft class.

It’s the duality of football in a sense; endless euphoria one week giving way to crushing agony the next. It shows the importance of each and every game, even in the early stages of the season. The narratives will always shift from week to week, as will these rankings.

So how do the teams stack up this time?

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2): The weather turned Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough into an unexpected slogfest, but the Bucs did just enough to eke out a win. Unfortunately, they lost yet another defensive back in Carlton Davis to injury, which might mean recently signed Richard Sherman becomes the number one corner within a week of signing. Yikes.

2. Buffalo Bills (4): While Buffalo’s 118-21 combined score and two shutouts in the last three games is a great sign of momentum, they came against three mediocre-at-best offenses. If they can manage the same success against the Chiefs, however, the Bills suddenly have a legitimate case of being the best team in the AFC.

3. Arizona Cardinals (7): Maybe I’m being too harsh on Arizona, who became the last undefeated team in the league with a shocking road victory against the Rams. I’ll buy into the Kyler Murray MVP hype, but the next month will decide if the Cardinals truly stack up with the league’s elite.

4. Baltimore Ravens (5): Lamar Jackson had one of his best passing games, Marqise Brown made up for a tough game against Detroit, and the defense had their way with the Broncos all game long. That final last-second run by Jackson to give Baltimore a new NFL record for most consecutive 100-yard rushing games was just the proverbial middle finger to an opponent they exposed.

5. Cleveland Browns (3): The defense feels much more legitimate after dominating for the second straight game, and the Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt duo is the most elite two-headed backfield monster in the league. All this needs is Baker Mayfield to be more consistent than he was against Minnesota, and the Browns could easily push for a deep playoff run.

6. Los Angeles Chargers (6): After an up-and-down beginning of the year, Justin Herbert has come alive with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games. Even more impressive, however, has been the defense, which has held all four of its opponents to their lowest offensive outputs of the season. Looks like Brandon Staley was the right man for the job.

7. Los Angeles Rams (1): The king of the hill was dethroned rather quickly this time around. After silencing the Buccaneers, the Rams struggled on both sides of the ball against the hotshot Cardinals. Once again, the NFC West is proving to be an absolute bloodbath.

8. Green Bay Packers (8): It wasn’t always pretty against Pittsburgh, but an offense that’s starting to find balance and an easy schedule could put the Packers in good position to have the NFC North at their mercy. They might have to do it without Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback Jaire Alexander, which pushes Green Bay whipping boy Kevin King and first-round pick Eric Stokes firmly under the microscope.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (9): The victory against Philadelphia last week was indicative of the Chiefs: a team that needs it’s high-end offensive talent to bail out what appears to be a truly horrendous defense. A primetime matchup against a surging Buffalo squad in Arrowhead suddenly has massive implications on where the Chiefs stand in the AFC.

10. Dallas Cowboys (12): As much as everyone outside of Dallas hates to admit it, the Cowboys are firmly in the driver’s seat of the NFC East. A balanced offense, combined with a defense that has enjoyed an impressive turnaround under Dan Quinn, has the denizens of Jerry World wondering what this team’s ceiling is.

11. Seattle Seahawks (17): Russell Wilson has never had a three-game losing streak since he entered the league ten years ago, and he was the sole reason it stayed that way against San Francisco. I’m still not convinced they’re better than the Rams and Cardinals, however, so Thursday’s game against the former will be crucial.

12. Las Vegas Raiders (10): The Raiders had been living life on the edge by coming back from 14-0 in two straight games, and it cost them when they pressed their luck against the Chargers with a 21-0 deficit after the first half. Derek Carr almost pulled it off with a strong second half, but a missed field goal and the defense buckling one final time put an end to those ambitions.

13. San Francisco 49ers (11): Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury started the Trey Lance era in unexpected fashion, and the talent he flashed against Seattle will come up big for San Francisco in situations this season. Unfortunately, Lance’s first start comes in a must-win game against the undefeated Cardinals. No one said being QB1 was sunshine and roses.

14. Cincinnati Bengals (18): The Bengals nearly regressed to old habits against Jacksonville on Thursday, but they woke up just in time to mount an impressive second-half comeback. Joe Burrow and company are certainly trending in the right direction, but the Packers pose a stern test.

15. Carolina Panthers (13): The Panthers received a reality check from the Cowboys last week, but a stretch of five games against one-win teams gives them a chance to regain momentum until they get Christian McCaffrey back. Sam Darnold does need to be much more consistent; his two interceptions allowed the Cowboys to tack on 10 points that turned the tide against his team.

16. Denver Broncos (14): The pundits who claimed the Broncos were only undefeated due to their schedule were proven correct against Baltimore, and Teddy Bridgewater entering concussion protocol forces Denver to commit to Drew Lock’s last stand. Given he put up zero points against Baltimore, however, color me skeptical that this will go any better.

17. New Orleans Saints (17): The fourth-quarter meltdown against the Giants was a result of Sean Payton trusting Taysom Hill over Alvin Kamara on a crucial third-down call, a decision that saw New York put up seventeen unanswered points. The Saints appear to be the most volatile team in the NFL by a comfortable margin.

18. Indianapolis Colts (25): Despite Quenton Nelson going on the shelf, the Colts managed to take advantage of a Dolphins team that has fallen apart at the seams. Despite starting out 0-3, the Colts are one win back from the lead of the NFL’s weakest division.

19. Washington Football Team (24): Chase Young and the Washington defense are still performing well below expectations, which could prove trouble in their next three games against New Orleans, Kansas City, and Green Bay. That said, Taylor Heinicke was instrumental in Washington’s comeback victory, as he continues to cement himself as a potential QB1.

20. New England Patriots (19): I don’t question Bill Belichick all that often, but opting for a 56-yard field goal from Nick Folk in inclement weather over allowing Mac Jones to continue his efficient performance certainly qualifies. At least it appears they made the right decision riding the rookie instead of Cam Newton, even if the Patriots seem set for uncharacteristic mediocrity.

21. Tennessee Titans (15): Being without A.J. Brown and Julio Jones doesn’t excuse what an embarrassing loss last week was for the Titans. Between an offensive line that allowed Ryan Tannehill to be sacked seven times and a defense that allowed the Jets to score more points than their last three games combined, there’s no other way to describe this than absolute failure.

22. Minnesota Vikings (19): Just when we thought the Vikings might have figured it out, Kirk Cousins ends up disappearing to waste Minnesota’s first quality defensive effort of the season. A 1-3 start puts the Vikings at risk, and risking missing the postseason could put Mike Zimmer’s job in jeopardy.

23. Chicago Bears (26): Justin Fields showed signs of life in his second professional start, which might have something to do with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor taking control of the offense. Still, the Lions aren’t an overly impressive opponent, and losing David Montgomery for an extended period of time will hurt. Matt Nagy’s job is still very much at risk.

24. Philadelphia Eagles (23): Jalen Hurts seems to be the answer at quarterback for the Eagles, which is good news. Unfortunately, three touchdowns called back by penalties are the self-inflicted wounds you can’t have if you want to beat the Chiefs.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers (20): If Ben Roethlisberger isn’t suffering from poor offensive line play, he’s making poor decisions with the football that cost his team games. It sounds like sacrilege, but the Steelers might be better off testing the waters with either Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins to see if they need to draft a quarterback in April.

26. Miami Dolphins (22): With a poor offensive line and a failing co-offensive coordinator system, Tua Tagovailoa might come back in a salvage situation. Brian Flores doesn’t deserve blame for this season, but the offense might require an overhaul in the spring.

27. New York Giants (30): The Giants place lower after a victory due to me staying realistic about their rough schedule and my distrust of Joe Judge not going away anytime soon. Still, Saquon Barkley had his best game since returning from his torn ACL, and Daniel Jones is finally starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

28. New York Jets (31): The Titans may be undermanned, but Zach Wilson and the defense did enough to pull out a shock victory. A trip to jolly old England against a reeling Falcons squad is suddenly a chance to build some much-needed momentum.

29. Atlanta Falcons (27): A kick-return touchdown followed up by two touchdown drives to lose a game would be a heartbreaker for most teams. For the Falcons, it’s yet another chapter of pain for one of sports’ longest-suffering franchises and teams.

30. Detroit Lions (29): More pain for the Lions, as they lost another strong defender to an Achilles tear and virtually saved Matt Nagy’s skin in Chicago. The only thing they’re hoping for is a legit QB1 to emerge in next year’s draft class.

31. Houston Texans (28): Davis Mills had his Nathan Peterman game with a four-interception performance against Buffalo (ironically). To be fair, though, this team could have Deshaun Watson still playing and they would be struggling.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (32): The Jaguars took their nineteenth consecutive loss against Cincinnati last Thursday, and Urban Meyer took another loss over the weekend with his…antics. Think Duval would be too upset if Meyer took the USC job?

NFL Power Rankings: Week 2/3 Edition

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Really, NFL? I leave you alone for a week, and you decide to completely shift on me? Guess it’s my form of karma coming after me.

All kidding aside, these first three games have presented a much clearer picture of the NFL hierarchy. Some contenders are performing as expected, with plenty of matchups looking primed to be repeated in the postseason (looking at you, Rams and Buccaneers). Meanwhile, other contenders have shown serious flaws in their rosters that have been exploited, leading to a few slow starts.

The surprises haven’t been all bad, though. A few surprising teams are still undefeated, and a few names have popped up as being in the hunt for awards. While there’s bound to be a team that breaks out of their slump at the expense of a team falling back to previous expectations, we can at least enjoy the ride of an exciting season.

So where have the teams landed since last time? Let’s find out.

1. Los Angeles Rams (3): The Rams’ all-in approach to a Super Bowl this season has gained positive results in the early going, headlined by Sunday’s dominant effort against the defending champs. Matthew Stafford looks like he has completely revitalized the offense, and the defense seems to be doing just fine with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey leading the charge.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1): The flaws of the Buccaneers’ current roster such as an inconsistent running game, surprisingly ineffective pass rush, and thin secondary were exposed against what appears to be their top competition for a Super Bowl return. Richard Sherman might help a bit, but next week will be all about Tom Brady’s return to Foxboro to take on (and likely break the all-time passing record against) the Patriots.

3. Cleveland Browns (5): If Myles Garrett and the defense can stifle opposing teams with more consistency like they did with the Bears, there’s no reason to believe they can’t fulfill their potential as a Super Bowl contender. Baker Mayfield’s efficient passing and elite running back duo should ensure the offense is in a good place most games.

4. Buffalo Bills (6): All of Bills Mafia breathed a sigh of relief from Josh Allen shaking off an inconsistent beginning with a strong performance, but the defense is taking some strides in the right direction. A.J. Epenesa and Gregory Rousseau have started to emerge as the pass-rushing duo that last season’s Bills could have definitely used.

5. Baltimore Ravens (13): Marquise Brown owes Justin Tucker a few steak dinners. Dropping two touchdown passes that could have iced the Lions early forced the latter to make NFL history in order to save the Ravens from a shocking upset. Does Hollywood need a change of scenery to live up to his nickname?

6. Los Angeles Chargers (10): In a parallel universe, the Chargers hired another Anthony Lynn and are sitting at 0-3; instead, they’re a few questionable calls away from 3-0. A couple problems still exist, but the aggressive playcalling from Brandon Staley, improved offensive line play, and a defense that’s making big plays when needed have been key to the Chargers finally starting to play to their potential.

7. Arizona Cardinals (7): A comeback win against hapless Jacksonville isn’t exactly something to write home about, but a hallmark of good teams is finding a way to win the games you should be winning. Kyler Murray and the defense led the second-half charge, but it might not have been the desired outcome given their next three games (Rams, 49ers, Browns).

8. Green Bay Packers (14): Aaron Rodgers is a literal time wizard, silencing the San Francisco crowd with a comeback drive to set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal. It’s debatable whether they can stand up to the likes of Los Angeles and Tampa Bay but, as long as Rodgers is relaxed, anything is possible.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (2): A leaky defense plus an uncharacteristically careless offense equals Kansas City’s first stint in the AFC West basement since 2015. Any team with Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid still has a chance of success, but the strong starts of their divisional rivals means they have to pick things up quickly (P.S. Josh Gordon’s not going to solve any of the concerns I have. Just saying.)

10. Las Vegas Raiders (25): The Raiders’ first 3-0 start since 2002 has come with a few bumps in the road, but they’ve certainly lived up to their home city’s “Entertainment Capital of the World” persona. Derek Carr emerging as a legitimate clutch quarterback, an array of receiving weapons, and a defense that’s starting to have a couple key pieces emerge have the Raiders thinking more than just being competitive.

11. San Francisco 49ers (9): How long can Kyle Shanahan reasonably keep Trey Lance on the bench? Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t bad, but if he continues putting up overall mediocre performances against quality competition, the cries in the Bay Area to start the number 3 overall pick will only grow louder.

12. Dallas Cowboys (12): Dak Prescott and the offense have done their part to put Dallas as the alpha dog of the NFC East, but the real reason for the Cowboys’ sudden turn have been the playmakers on defense. Micah Parsons has emerged as an early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Trevon Diggs’s six interceptions in his last eight games is seeing him emerge as a legitimate playmaking cornerback.

13. Carolina Panthers (22): Carolina pulled out a strong performance on Thursday against Houston, but lost Christian McCaffrey and Jaycee Horn to long-term injuries. The Panthers replaced the latter by landing C.J. Henderson from Jacksonville without giving up too much, but not having McCaffrey for a few weeks will be a true test for Sam Darnold, Joe Brady, and the Carolina offense.

14. Denver Broncos (18): Going 3-0 against the bottom three teams on this list (spoilers) isn’t overly impressive, but there’s something to be said about winning the games you’re supposed to be winning. Should they beat Baltimore this week, however, a spot in the top ten could be waiting for them.

15. Tennessee Titans (15): Maybe the “pay Derrick Henry over Ryan Tannehill” crowd was onto something. In Tennessee’s Week 1 loss to the Cardinals, Henry put up 58 rushing yards on 17 carries (3.4 YPC); in Tennessee’s two recent victories, he’s amassed 293 rushing yards on 56 carries (4.7 YPC).

16. New Orleans Saints (8): So they aren’t as good as their Week 1 pasting of the Packers implied, but the Saints still have a quality team. Jameis Winston’s gunslinging ways make the team incredibly volatile to predict, but Alvin Kamara and the defense are good enough to take advantage of their quarterback’s good days.

17. Seattle Seahawks (4): This might not even be a Seahawks squad Russell Wilson can save. He and the offense can do their part, but this defense looks terrible, especially when it comes to the run defense which made Alexander Mattison look like Dalvin Cook stole his understudy’s jersey and played in his stead. Divisional matchups against San Francisco and Los Angeles suddenly have serious implications for Seattle’s season.

18. Cincinnati Bengals (23): If you had guessed Cincinnati’s still-terrible offensive line to break the Steelers’ 75-game sack streak, you may be a literal psychic. They’ll be hard-pressed to make the playoffs, but keep an eye on them to play spoiler for a team or two as the season progresses.

19. Minnesota Vikings (26): The offense had their way against Seattle’s defense, giving the Vikings and Mike Zimmer the statement win they desperately needed. With games against Cleveland and Carolina up next, however, those two close losses still loom large.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (11): T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith’s absences left Pittsburgh without their typical punch on defense, but the offense is what’s going to give Mike Tomlin his first sub-.500 season as Steelers coach. The offensive line looks as terrible as predicted, Najee Harris will be taking his lumps in his rookie year, and Ben Roethlisberger looks like he hung around a year too long.

21. New England Patriots (17): It’s weird to say that Mac Jones is still the best-looking rookie quarterback in the league after…whatever the New Orleans game was. With three interceptions, Jones showed that he’s a quarterback who needs his team to elevate him at this stage of his career, unlike a certain prodigal son making his return…

22. Miami Dolphins (16): A spirited “hard loss” effort to Las Vegas under Jacoby Brissett doesn’t appear bad at first blush, but the schedule sees Tampa Bay and Buffalo as opponents in the next month. I’d safely consider Brissett’s “revenge game” against Indianapolis as a must-win if Miami wants to do anything worthwhile this season.

23. Philadelphia Eagles (21): If Weeks 1 and 2 showed the potential that Jalen Hurts, Nick Sirianni, and the Eagles have, Week 3’s dud against Dallas showed that there’s still a lot of building to do. With the next month featuring Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Las Vegas on the schedule, the Eagles could be eyeing a lost season by the time Halloween rolls around.

24. Washington Football Team (20): The supposedly-formidable defense has been shredded repeatedly, the offense under Taylor Heinicke can’t do anything notable, and the team is a lucky penalty away from 0-3. The Cam Newton talk after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s injury was in jest to start; it may start looking like an understandable desperation heave to salvage a season on the brink.

25. Indianapolis Colts (19): Carson Wentz’s second tour of duty under Frank Reich hasn’t gone according to plan for the Colts, who may need a Week 4 win against Miami to reasonably stay in the playoff hunt. Reich led the 2018 Colts to the playoffs after a 1-5 start; he may need to conjure up similar magic for the sake of job security.

26. Chicago Bears (24): It’s hard to tell what was worse about Justin Fields’s NFL debut: the offensive line that featured Myles Garrett stealing Jason Peters’s soul, or an easily-predictable offensive scheme from Matt Nagy that saw the Bears offense have 47 yards…total. If Nagy makes the wrong quarterback decision and loses to Detroit this week, he and Ryan Pace may need security escorts out of Chicago.

27. Atlanta Falcons (30): It didn’t matter which way the Falcons got a win over the Giants; it was necessary to save this season. A nice schedule with Washington and the Jets coming up puts Arthur Smith in great position to gain some momentum and possibly make something out of his first season as head coach (having something worthwhile in Cordarrelle Patterson certainly helps).

28. Houston Texans (28): The Texans are a talent-deficient team as expected, but they aren’t as terrible as many thought they’d be to start the season. Davis Mills showed flashes of ability in his first career start, and the roster performing well without the weight of expectation is a victory in and of itself. Props to you, David Culley.

29. Detroit Lions (31): If the football gods truly exist, they hate the Lions with a burning passion. Here’s how the final moments of the Baltimore game went: conversion on fourth-and-19, a botched no-call on an obvious delay of game penalty, and a historic field goal from Justin Tucker. Somewhere, Calvin Johnson cackles maniacally…

30. New York Giants (27): Hamstring injuries to New York’s top two receivers and a torn ACL to a defensive leader later, and the Giants have now lost two winnable games on last-second field goals. Their reward is as follows: their next six games against New Orleans, Dallas, the Rams, Carolina, Kansas City, and Las Vegas before the bye. Joe Judge getting fired before the bye could come off as an act of mercy if this goes as horribly as expected.

31. New York Jets (29): Just like Zach Wilson’s rookie season, I think we can safely call this another lost season for the Jets. With 20 points over three games and being held out of the end zone since Week 1, any optimism with Gang Green is long gone.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (32): The Iron Bowl-esque kick-six has been the only highlight for the Jaguars so far as Trevor Lawrence commits to the Peyton Manning route of a terrible rookie season leading to a promising career. That said, any person willing to jump off the Jumbotron to Rise Against in a mascot costume is worth a salute.

NFL Power Rankings: Week 1 Edition

Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything NFL-related on this blog, but why not try it again and see how the dice lands this time around?

Week 1 is always one of the most anticipated weeks for a football fan. Despite all the offseason hype that rolls around, the first game of the regular season is a true litmus test to determine just where your team stands in the NFL hierarchy. Whether it be how impressive the rookie crop has been in training camp or how a specific player earned a roster spot with a strong preseason, Week 1 is where the fans can gain concrete evidence for or against specific narratives.

Granted, Week 1 is also prone to delivering serious overreactions in the aftermath. No, your team isn’t going to the Super Bowl because you dominated your first opponent, nor should you start your rebuilding plan because of a bad opening loss. We won’t truly know where the teams stand until the first month of the season comes to a close, hence the chaotic nature of a ranking this early on.

That said, that’s the fun of doing these rankings. It’s fascinating to look back and seeing where a team started and questioning how you thought so highly or negatively of them in the first place. It happens every year in every sport, so there’s no shame in admitting that you were wrong about a certain team or player. The only question now is juggling this with the NHL when it starts up next month (your problem, future me).

So where does your team stack up?

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There are noticeable chinks in the defending Super Bowl champion’s armor, such as an inconsistent running game and a lack of quality secondary depth. Until Father Time solves the riddle known as Tom Brady, however, there’s no reason to doubt the Bucs can close out games and be a force throughout the season.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: Make that 11-0 with a 35-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio for Patrick Mahomes in September, and the offensive triumvirate of Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce remains the deadliest in the NFL. The Chiefs might be hoping for repeat performances; the defense has issues that Tyrann Mathieu’s return won’t fix, so expect plenty of firefights all season long.

3. Los Angeles Rams: The Matthew Stafford era in L.A. started with a bang, highlighted by two long touchdown throws that should continue to open things up for Sean McVay’s offense. If one of the running backs can step up in the absence of Cam Akers, a chance for a hometown Super Bowl would increase significantly.

4. Seattle Seahawks: New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron made his mark on the Seahawks early, as Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett, and D.K. Metcalf all had big days against a typically-stout Indianapolis defense. However, we’ve seen this movie before; if the Seahawks want to be taken seriously as a contender, they need to continue to produce these efforts with consistency, especially in the playoffs.

5. Cleveland Browns: The Browns came shockingly close to leaving Arrowhead Stadium with their first season-opening win since 2004, but three costly second-half turnovers put a stop to those ambitions. They’re still in the top five because they’ve shown they can be a serious competitor against the top teams; now it’s just a matter of eliminating the mistakes before playoff time.

6. Buffalo Bills: The Super Bowl talk cooled significantly in Buffalo, as they did virtually nothing against the Steelers in one of the more surprising outcomes of the week. It’s far too early to panic, but if Josh Allen continues to look more like the raw prospect of his rookie season than last year’s potential MVP candidate, there could be serious causes for concern.

7. Arizona Cardinals: Who saw that coming? Whether it was Kyler Murray kicking off his MVP campaign with a five-touchdown performance or a surprisingly strong defensive effort headlined by Chandler Jones five-sack afternoon, the Cardinals dominated Tennessee in just about every facet of play. It’s hard to think of a team with a more impressive Week 1 effort…

8. New Orleans Saints: …well, maybe not. Despite having their first home game relocated to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida, the Saints looked right at home. Between Jameis Winston’s hyper-efficient stat line and the defense forcing reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers to the bench in the fourth quarter, they showed that they can still be competitive without Drew Brees.

9. San Francisco 49ers: All four NFC West teams being in the top 10 should be an indicator of how difficult this division is going to be. The dominant storyline coming from San Francisco wasn’t the ongoing quarterback battle between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance, but how the defense completely fell apart after the loss of Jason Verrett. They made a key stop outside of the red zone to stave off a Detroit comeback, but that defensive effort won’t cut it in a division loaded with quarterback talent.

10. Los Angeles Chargers: Despite having all the ingredients of a typical Chargers loss, this unit managed to pull out a gutsy road win over Washington. While Justin Herbert will deservedly get the adulation for shaking off two costly turnovers with a game-winning drive and being aggressive on third down to burn the clock away, the new-look offensive line spearheaded by first-round pick Rashawn Slater deserves credit for keeping one of the league’s best pass-rushing units at bay.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rumors of the Steelers’ demise may have been exaggerated, especially after putting together a clinic against a Bills offense that was near-unstoppable last season. Their own offense still has some question marks, but it’ll be a relief to Ben Roethlisberger and crew that their defense will give them a chance to get into a rhythm.

12. Dallas Cowboys: Despite a heartbreaking loss, Cowboys fans are likely rejoicing over Dak Prescott’s return to form. Questions still linger, however, regarding Ezekiel Elliott’s confusingly low usage, how long a young defense will adjust under Dan Quinn, and how this team will respond to Michael Gallup’s injury and La’el Collins’s suspension. The next couple games are going to be crucial.

13. Baltimore Ravens: Maybe all those injuries on offense were more critical than we thought, as exemplified by Lamar Jackson’s enigmatic performance on Monday. Two costly fumbles and having to deal with constant pressure isn’t going to help him develop as a passer, and now they draw the Chiefs on a short week? Yikes.

14. Green Bay Packers: The NFL’s version of The Last Dance started out with a twisted ankle, courtesy of Jameis Winston and the Saints. When Jordan Love looks better than the reigning MVP and Green Bay’s best hope for a Lombardi Trophy, that’s the epitome of a “burn the tape” game. Better days are likely ahead, but if they don’t, could this be a situation that gets toxic?

15. Tennessee Titans: The Cardinals just put on a master class on how to defeat the Titans: stop Derrick Henry consistently, build up a big lead against a shaky defense, and force a passing game not yet in sync to throw their way out of a deficit. Taylor Lewan’s accountability after getting victimized by Chandler Jones warrants respect, but it’s hard to find anyone on this team NOT deserving of blame for…whatever that was.

16. Miami Dolphins: If you were looking for Tua Tagovailoa to finally establish himself as a legitimate NFL franchise quarterback, you came away from this game sorely disappointed. If you were looking for a team playing to its strengths and looking good in key situations, you took away plenty of positives. The whole Xavien Howard drama’s cleared up long-term…right?

17. New England Patriots: The good news for the Patriots is they seemed to make the right decision on Mac Jones, as he actually outperformed Tagovailoa in the first battle of Alabama quarterbacks. The bad news is that Damien Harris went from hero to goat with a fumble that ultimately cost the Pats a winnable game, something Bill Belichick won’t be happy about.

18. Denver Broncos: Minus Jerry Jeudy’s injury, this was exactly the performance Broncos fans wished to see: a capable offense led by Teddy Bridgewater shoring up a strong defensive effort. Von Miller made a case for Comeback Player of the Year with two sacks, and such performances will be necessary if the Broncos want to snatch a spot in the playoffs.

19. Indianapolis Colts: Despite Carson Wentz deserving credit for avoiding the mistakes that plagued his final season in Philadelphia, nothing saved them from being dominated on both sides of the ball by Seattle. Frank Reich and his staff will have to bounce back quickly; even in the weak AFC South, two straight home losses to start the year could be the difference between the postseason and sitting out come January.

20. Washington Football Team: Taylor Heinicke had flashes in both Washington’s playoff game against Tampa Bay and the Chargers on Sunday, but he’ll now be called upon to guide the WFT after Ryan Fitzpatrick was put on IR. If he struggles to push a team loaded with talent over the edge, Cam Newton might want to think about putting Ron Rivera’s number on speed-dial.

21. Philadelphia Eagles: It’s hard to think of a first-year head coach who had a better debut than Nick Sirianni, who oversaw Jalen Hurts dominating an overmatched Falcons defense and a defensive performance that punished Matt Ryan. If they can catch a San Francisco team reeling from a near-loss, the Eagles could convince a lot of people about their legitimacy as a team on the rise.

22. Carolina Panthers: Sam Darnold was successful in his revenge game against the Jets, and having a reliable running back and safety valve in Christian McCaffrey can only help him as he gets acclimated to his new team. If the young defense can prove they’ve taken key steps against tougher competition, Matt Rhule might be on to something here.

23. Cincinnati Bengals: Despite a poor fourth-down decision by Zac Taylor opening the door for the Vikings to take Cincinnati to overtime, the Bengals were able to slam said door into their faces with Taylor redeeming himself on a much more sensible fourth-down call. Joe Burrow looked good coming off of knee surgery, JaMarr Chase erased some doubts towards his ability at the NFL level, and Joe Mixon’s strong game hopefully allows the offense to be more balanced this year.

24. Chicago Bears: It was the right decision to send Andy Dalton in front of the firing squad known as the Rams defense, but is Justin Fields’s inevitable debut (possibly as soon as this Sunday) going to really save this team? The defense hasn’t looked right in the last couple of years, and more ugly performances on that side of the ball could force the highly-touted Fields into an unmanageable situation.

25. Las Vegas Raiders: It took an epic comedy of errors to reach the end, but the Raiders did manage to open Allegiant Stadium to fans with a huge Monday night victory. Clelin Ferrell’s healthy scratch just two years after the Raiders drafted him number 4 overall is a massive knock on the Gruden-Mayock regime’s draft decisions, but Maxx Crosby and Bryan Edwards at least seem like hits.

26. Minnesota Vikings: While Vikings fans might call refball on Dalvin Cook’s costly fumble call, the truth is that Minnesota lost this game on their own. Kirk Cousins still doesn’t scare anybody from stacking the box on Cook, and the offensive line and defense are still serious issues. With a tough slate coming up ahead, could we seriously consider Mike Zimmer as a candidate for a mid-season firing if these struggles continue?

27. New York Giants: In 27 career starts, Daniel Jones now has 30 fumbles and 40 turnovers, including one that iced the game in Denver’s favor. That and several questionable decisions on both sides of the ball isn’t a good look for a team that’s seeing a lot of people requiring good seasons to keep their jobs.

28. Houston Texans: Sometimes, not having the weight of expectation is a good thing. While this victory should be taken with a grain of salt (the Jaguars’ only victory last season came in Week 1), the Texans shook off claims of being the worst team in football with a statement win over, ironically, the Jaguars. Also, if you had a Tyrod Taylor redemption arc on your 2021 NFL bingo cards, good on you.

29. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, I am so sorry. Your overall solid day was marred by how terrible the Jets’ offensive line is, and an injury to stud left tackle Mekhi Becton does not help matters. Whose name do I burn in effigy if Wilson gets Joe Burrowed mid-season?

30. Atlanta Falcons: So much for Arthur Smith and Kyle Pitts bolstering the offense. The defense struggled as expected against Jalen Hurts and crew, but it was clear how much the Falcons missed Julio Jones on offense. Not much good to be said here.

31. Detroit Lions: For as hysterical as Dan Campbell’s press conferences have been, the Lions nearly stealing victory from the jaws of certain defeat shows his team is already responding to their new coach’s energy. And then Jeff Okudah goes down for the season with a torn Achilles. Ladies and gentlemen, the Detroit Lions.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence will likely follow the Peyton Manning route and struggle in his rookie season, but can we talk about Urban Meyer for a second? Multiple reports are circulating about him already losing control of this team, and now being heavily outcoached by David Culley in what was supposed to be a statement win? It may be a Week 1 overreaction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Meyer hire sets the Jaguars back years.